Top Art Schools Venturing Online

Elite U.S. and international programs are starting to offer online courses so they are more accessible and affordable -- and to attract new students to their campuses. 

April 5, 2017
 
Jordan Hochenbaum teaches an online sound production course at CalArts.

Some of the most prestigious art and design schools recently began offering credit and non-credit courses online for the first time to make the classes accessible to learners worldwide. And they are a fraction of the cost -- about $300 per hour -- of the schools' in-person classes. 

Faculty and administrators are enthusiastic about the opportunity. “I wanted to bring art history to the people,” said Lisa Wainwright, dean of faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and professor of art history. “That was really ... rewarding -- just helping people navigate museums.”

The courses are being made available through Kadenze, an online education platform tailored for art and creative technology courses. Kadenze is not even two years old, but it has partnered with powerhouse art programs across the globe, including California College of the Arts, California Institute of the Arts, Otis College of Art and Design, Paris College of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Seoul Institute of the Arts. Elite universities including Columbia, Princeton and Stanford also are working with Kadenze.

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has wanted to make its courses more accessible to a wider audience for a long time. “At RISD, we’re not really interested in being exclusive,” said Carl Lostritto, an assistant professor who teaches computational design. “Our metrics for being the best is more and more measured for having an effect on the world rather than just being the highest quality.”

“We want to reach the students who might not have had the exposure ... to the arts previously," he added.

Besides access and lower costs, the online courses allow learners to build portfolios while helping the schools to entice potential students to apply to attend on campus, officials said. Since California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) began partnering with Kadenze in 2015, 25 percent of the students who applied to the institute’s music technology program on campus have taken at least one related CalArts course online, said Jordan Hochenbaum, a co-founder of Kadenze who teaches music technology at CalArts. And 50 percent of the students CalArts accepted for this fall were among those who had taken an online course through Kadenze. 

The online students “really understand what we’re doing and they’re more prepared and better applicants,” Hochenbaum said. “Our applicant pool is getting better and better.”

The online courses offered through Kadenze draw a diverse crowd, with about 65 percent of the students coming from outside the United States, according to Ajay Kapur, CEO and president of Kadenze.

“In the arts, that’s a really big deal,” said Kapur, who is director of the music technology program at CalArts. “The arts are not diverse at all.”

About half of the Kadenze courses can be taken for credit. If a student took all credit-eligible courses offered by Kadenze schools, they could earn up to 49 credits -- the equivalent of about three semesters of art courses. Kadenze's goal is to be able to offer students up to two years of college credit by the end of the year. 

Here are three elite art schools' first experiences with online courses.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
Wainwright considers herself something of a luddite. Until the last year or so, she was reluctant to incorporate technology into her art history courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

But when Wainwright, who prefers teaching larger sections, heard how many students she might be able to reach through the Kadenze program, she decided it was time to get tech savvy.  “I thought I could reach, you know, the world essentially,” she said.

Wainwright launched SAIC’s first online course, “Touring Modernism: From the French Avant-Garde to American Pop and Beyond,” last summer. 

The in-person equivalent of the course incorporates exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago -- an element Wainwright didn’t think she could replace or replicate in an online course. However, a green room and the sophisticated video technology offered at Kadenze’s California production site allowed SAIC to create “the next best thing,” said Alan Labb, associate provost of education technology. 

“The online component was able to parallel that [museum] experience,” Labb said. The Kadenze production bureau in Chicago was able to shoot video and conduct interviews in the museum, so online students could “tour” the art institute. 

Wainwright filmed the other videos in Kadenze’s studio in California, where the lessons got even more creative. For example, Wainwright turned one into a cooking show, and got several Kadenze staff to pose in a “living painting” for another session. 

After the online course went live, emails poured in from students all over the country, including places like Utah, thanking Wainwright for the energy she put into the course. 

Because the pilot class was such a success, SAIC plans to launch others this fall. One will be an introduction to designing objects and the other about bringing design concepts to life through production and fabrication. 

Labb said he and his colleagues are excited about the opportunities. “Someone from Turkey might take this course and it encourage them to seek out us -- or art in general,” added said. “It’s a new possibility.”

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
After teaching a few cycles of his online sound production course, Hochenbaum not only changed his teaching style, he began to incorporate some of his methods from the online course into his in-person classes. He said transitioning to online teaching forced him to evaluate and adjust the narrative of his lessons. 

“That in itself has been really beneficial for me on campus,” he said. “I was working with [Kadenze’s] instructional designers to push me and make me think …”

Because his course naturally relies on technology, Hochenbaum said the online platform actually made it easier, in many ways, to teach his students the mixing and sound production. 

The online format has not adversely impacted student performance either, he said. “It’s really interesting to see the development from the first assignment to the final assignment," he added. "You can see and hear the progression of them getting better.”

The main drawback, Hochenbaum said, is that online teaching makes it more difficult for students to develop relationships with their professors or other students in the class. However, he said the course's online galleries help facilitate interaction between students. 

“The gallery has been instrumental … to mimic that engagement on an arts campus,” Hochenbaum said. “I think it would be really difficult to do these courses in a meaningful way without that.” 

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Lostritto will teach the first online course for the Rhode Island School of Design later this year. The non credit-eligible course, “Computing Form and Shape: Python Programming with Rhinoscript Library,” will span five weeks.

Lostritto worked with Kadenze in the past -- he used their learning management system, Kannu, for a hybrid course he teaches and found it worked with his curriculum. 

In Lostritto’s online computing course, students will go beyond theory -- they will be making something every session, he said. Lostritto is working with Kadenze staff to figure out how to translate his campus course material to an online platform. In May, he’ll visit Kadenze in California to film the course, which will be rolled out sometime in August.

Lostriotto said he's "going into this in a really earnest, optimistic way, but I fully expect aspects of this course to be failures. Luckily, there will be space and opportunity to adapt.” 

 

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